- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

President Obama, seeking to regain momentum in the increasingly troubled push in Congress for health care reform, told a prime-time national audience that their future is at stake in the debate.

“This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance,” he said. “Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job or change their job. Its about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive.”

At his tenth extended press conference since taking office six months ago, Mr. Obama warned voters not to be duped by the naysayers and political hatchet men trying to derail an overhaul of the country’s health care system.

He also took credit for the $787 billion stimulus that he said pulled “our economy back from the brink.”

He promised reform would provide security for people with insurance and provide the uninsured a choice of quality, affordable coverage through a health insurance exchange, a marketplace that he said would promote choice and competition.

Mr. Obama, whose personal popularity remains high but is slipping in the polls, aimed his comments at voters who are increasingly skeptical of the proposals now being discussed in Washington. A recent Gallup poll showed 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the health reform plans and just 44 percent approve.

He acknowledged the public’s skepticism.

“I understand that people are feeling uncertain about this,” Mr. Obama said. “They feel anxious partly because we have just become so cynical about what government can accomplish.” He said it was a case of people being more comfortable with the “devil they know” than “the devil they don’t know.”

Republicans said Mr. Obama was struggling to overcome the shortcoming his own party has found with the reform package.

“The irony of the last several weeks is that as the president and Democrat leaders try desperately to point fingers at Republicans, its rank-and-file Democrats in the House and Senate who are some of their most vocal opponents,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Obama tried to tie health care reform to the long-term fiscal health of the country as a whole.

“Let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit,” Mr. Obama said in prepared remarks distributed prior to the press conference. “If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket.”

He said failure to act would result in 14,000 Americans continuing to lose their health insurance every day. “These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate were having right now,” he said.

Mr. Obama stressed that the plan’s $1 trillion price tag would not add to the deficit, a concern that has become a chief stumbling block in Congress, as conservative Blue Dog Democrats hesitate to sign on to a bill that they say threatens to bankrupt the country.

But hours before the press conference, progress again appeared to stall on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, dropped out of the group of six bipartisan negotiators in the Senate Finance Committee, saying it had become clear to him that he could not support the emerging compromise blueprint.

Mr. Hatch said Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, has “not been given the flexibility necessary to construct a realistic health care reform bill that can achieve true bipartisan support.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House was on track to pass a health care bill before the August recess, a deadline set by Mr. Obama. But it became more likely the Senate would not finish its work in time.

“I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation,” Mrs. Pelosi said, contradicting skeptics who say Blue Dog opposition could scuttle the bill.

At the press conference, Mr. Obama said he realized that the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington left many Americans wondering, ?Whats in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform??

He set out to answer those questions, noting that Congress is still working on key details of the plan but has reached agreements on a few significant issues, including guaranteeing the government will not dictate medical decisions and insurance companies cannot drop coverage of sick people or deny coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Mr. Obama offered an early preview of the remarks in an e-mail to people signed up at WhiteHouse.gov.

He said the government is “closer than ever to passing comprehensive health insurance reform that benefits American families and small businesses.”

He said he was holding the press conference to help people understand “how far we’ve come” amid “all the back and forth in the news right now” and outlined what he called a “critical consensus” on several areas.

He asked people to forward the e-mail and help them “seize this opportunity and pass health insurance reform this year.”

• Jen Haberkorn contributed to this article

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